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TC school admins allege Soma bullies female principals

David Cassleman

Updated March 9, 2018 at 4 p.m.

A letter from Traverse City school administrators alleges the district superintendent bullies and intimidates female principals.

The Traverse City Administrators Association (TCAA) sent the letter, including a list of other allegations, to the TCAPS board on Feb. 28. It gave specific examples of the complaints against Superintendent Paul Soma.


One allegation describes Soma yelling at a female principal about his authority over her, repeatedly telling her his title is superintendent. In another instance, Soma allegedly reminds a female principal that she has her job only because of him, saying "are you happy I gave you this job?"

The letter is eight pages long and the allegations are broken into five categories: bullying and intimidation, particularly of female principals; lack of emotional maturity and emotional control; unprofessional behavior; disseminating inaccurate information; and undermining school leaders.

The TCAA's letter says Soma's divisive leadership creates a fear-based culture. Soma is characterized as “hot-headed.” According to the letter, in an anonymous survey taken by a hand-selected group of TCAPS staff last summer. One person described Soma as "too emotional, easily swayed with opinions rather than facts."

Traverse City Administrators Association's Feb. 28, 2018 letter:

Superintendent Paul Soma says the allegations are unfounded.

"I respect every employee's right to disagree with my approach and my decisions," he says. "That’s a challenge that every leader has to face.”

Soma says there are multiple ways to file complaints against leadership in the district, and he wishes principals had pursued those avenues before sending a letter with a list of anonymous allegations.

"The anonymity of these complaints does not readily lend itself to a healthy resolution," he says.

"We want our school system to be healthy," says Ryan Schrock, head of the TCAA. "We've expressed our concern to the board and trust they will support our district in moving forward."

The letter says Soma provides unhealthy and divisive leadership, which leads to a fear-based culture.

Last year, three allegations against Soma, including claims of bullying and harassment, were investigated. The investigative report found those allegations unfounded.

TCAPS Board President Erik Falconer says the board was aware there were more allegations out there while they were investigating the other complaints, but this letter is the first time they are seeing those additional complaints in detail. The TCAA says it has been asking the board to hear all of its complaints for the past 161 days, which the board has not done.

Falconer says the board will investigate the allegations detailed in the letter. He says they have already reached out to a company to contract for the investigation. The previous investigation cost the district tens of thousands of dollars, Falconer says, and this one will also come with a price tag.

The TCAPS board has scheduled a special meeting Saturday to discuss the letter's complaints and to vote on hiring a third-party investigator. The TCAA sent a letter responding to the recently schedule special meeting, calling it "an exercise in futility:"

"The exercise of going to a special meeting appears to be pointless. The allegations here are not new. The TCAA voiced the same concerns in September 2017. ... These issues have been available for review and/or investigation for months, yet the process has dragged on."

The letter did say that the TCAA members plan to attend a regularly scheduled board meeting Monday.

On Monday, Soma will go before the board for his annual performance evaluation, which was already scheduled before this letter came out. During the evaluation, the board will decide if they want to renew Soma's contract. The board has also scheduled a special meeting to discuss the TCAA's complaints this Saturday.

Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.